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If your business works with hazardous substances and has five or more employees, then by law you’ll need to conduct a Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) assessment. Here, we go through how to conduct a COSHH assessment, who should be responsible, and why doing so protects your employees.

First, however, it’s helpful to ask…

What classes as a hazardous substance?

According to this page on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website, the definition of a hazardous substance covered under COSHH is quite varied. It can include:

  • Chemicals
  • Products containing chemicals
  • Fumes
  • Dusts
  • Vapours
  • Mists
  • Nanotechnology
  • Gases and asphyxiating gases and
  • Biological agents (germs) in packaging with hazard symbols
  • Germs that cause diseases like leptospirosis or legionnaires disease
  • Germs used in laboratories.

One important thing to note is COSHH (and therefore a COSHH assessment) doesn’t cover asbestos, lead or radioactive materials. All three have their own specific regulations.

It’s also important to point out that many of these substances don’t come in a malleable solid or liquid form, but instead are released into the air as a by-product of processes like welding, melting and grinding. Left unchecked, they can cause health problems like COPD, asthma, metal fume fever and much more besides.

With that established, we can explore how you go about conducting a COSHH assessment.

How to carry out a COSHH assessment

Man writing on a check list

Broadly speaking, there are six steps to conducting an effective COSHH assessment that you’ll want to take.

Decide who’s going to be responsible

The first step to conducting a COSHH assessment is to make a choice about who’s going to lead your safety efforts. This can be a single person or a collective group, but either way, they need to be highly competent. The more dangerous the substances your business uses, the more complicated the risks are likely to be, so appointing a responsible person or team that know your business and its substances inside and out is incredibly important.

Identify the hazards in your workplace

The second of the six steps to conducting an effective COSHH assessment involves getting familiar with your workplace and the substances in it. This means observing the entire space and how it’s used to accurately gauge the processes that are likely to give off harmful fumes, dusts or mists (etc.), and also take stock of all known chemicals you use by reading labels and viewing safety data sheets (SDS).

The HSE industry-specific guidance page will also be a huge help here, so we’d suggest having that bookmarked on your phone or tablet and keeping it as a handy reference throughout the assessment process.

Evaluate who might be harmed by them

The next step in conducting a COSHH assessment is to take an in-depth inventory of every job role in your workplace in order to get a deep understanding of how they might interact with harmful substances during their day to day tasks.

That could mean full-time employees or contractors, and everyone from office workers to site staff and even visitors to your company.

Different working processes will mean different levels of exposure, so being thorough at this stage is key to the success of your risk assessment.

Take an overview of the risks you’ve identified

Once you’ve taken time to understand the risks present, the next step to carrying out a COSHH risk assessment involves delving into those and prioritising them.

Ask yourself:

  • How much harm might the hazardous substance cause?
  • What is the likelihood of exposure and potential frequency?
  • How harmful might the exposure be and how long might it last?

Remember, a COSHH assessment is all about preventing avoidable exposure by controlling and mitigating the risks wherever possible. Wherever you see the opportunity for exposure to arise, you need to consider the risk it poses.

Decide on control measures

Industry working operating machine

Once you’ve looked at the risks on a granular level, you’ll be in a place to understand how to either control them, or ideally eliminate them altogether.

HSE’s guidance suggests answering two questions, then adopting certain control measures depending on the nature of the hazard.

The questions are:

  • If the hazard is a particular substance, is a safer one available?
  • If the hazard is the result of a process, can that process change?

If the answer to these is no, then the control measures it suggests are:

  • Changing the process to reduce the risk
  • Contain the hazard as much as possible by either enclosing it, wearing appropriate protective equipment to minimise handling during the process and using appropriate at-source extraction equipment (more on that later).
  • Adapt working systems to restrict access to necessary personnel only; using appropriate storage containers; and disposing of waste efficiently
  • Put in place rigorous cleaning measures around all surfaces, equipment and spillages – making sure to vacuum rather than sweeping.

Which leads us to…

Document your assessment and continue to review when changes occur

The last of the six steps to conducting an effective COSHH assessment is for the responsible party to fully document the measures that have been put in place. They should also keep an ongoing watch for processes or substances changing, and adapt to put new controls in place if needed.

Does your business need a COSHH assessment?

So that’s our blog on how to carry out a COSHH assessment. But the one question we haven’t answered yet is – does your business need one?

In truth, any business where workers operate machinery or handle chemicals is likely to need a COSHH assessment of some kind. That could mean the more obvious industries like manufacturing and construction, but also less apparent ones like beauty salons, dentists, vets, health surgeries, and more besides.

Whatever your business, if you need an at-source extraction system that helps you to be COSHH compliant, we’re the company to come to.

Take a look at our at-source extraction units, or use the industries tab above to find the range for your field. Not sure which you need from our range of options? Get in touch and we’ll talk you through your choices.

Further Reading

Farm Fumes: The Health Risks and Solutions

How Ventilation Helps to Fight Viruses

All About Asthma

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